"It's been a need here in North County for a long time," said Joseph McGovern, executive director of Northern Berkshire United Way, of the new United Volunteer Connector. "We are constantly getting calls from agencies and from individuals and from groups that are looking to do volunteerism. It's hard to to connect people at times."
The North County effort is one of only three being funded this year by the Service Alliance; the other two are in the eastern part of the state.
BerkshireNonProfits.com, operated by parent company BoxCar Media, is a free site for listing nonprofit agencies maintained as part of the iBerkshires.com family. Working with Kathy Keeser, former program director at Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, the website underwent some changes in recent years to promote free listings for volunteer positions.
Keeser said using a United Way as the lead in this effort made sense because many people new to an area turn to local United Ways to find out about local nonprofits and volunteer opportunities.
"When Kathy came to us with this idea, we thought it would be great that we would be able to use this," said iBerkshires.com Editor Tammy Daniels. "But somebody needs to drive it and get it out there."
McGovern said he and Keeser had spoken of the need for a central volunteer network for years. Plus, he said, the Massachusetts Alliance Service works with many United Ways across the state: "It seemed a really good fit with what we wanted to accomplish."
Grant funds will be used for promotion, any staffing hours and for BoxCar Media to maintain and program the website as needed. Keeser, who has continued to work in the nonprofit and volunteer sector, will be program and grant manager.
"Obviously, Kathy will be the driving force behind this," said McGovern. He said the effort will consist of two main components: to get the connector up and running and then to develop plans to sustain it after the grant money runs out in September. "We have a small window to make this happen."
Keeser said the first things will be to put elements in place for the short term with an eye to long-term sustainability.
"The website has to be so it's easy to use, it's logical," she said. "There will be support for the agencies but they have to do the day-to-day follow up, the day-to-day scheduling ... we'll be more of a matching service."
The new configuration will start with Northern Berkshire United Way agencies, then include all Nothern Berkshire nonprofits. Agencies outside Northern Berkshire will continue to be listed and be able to use the site. The website has the potential to expand but the grant's primary focus is North County.
"We are thrilled that BerkshireNonProfits.com will truly become a community resource," said BoxCar Media President Osmin Alvarez. "As a locally owned and operated company, we understand the importance of community service. We are confident that Northern Berkshire United Way will improve upon and make this site successful."
McGovern said volunteers are imperative to the success of many nonprofits, Northern Berkshire United Way included.
"This is just the next step in the nonprofit industry," he said. "We live in an Internet world ... this will be much easier for them to go to a website that will provide them with the information that they need for helping out in the community."
Keeser said Massachusetts Service Alliance will kicking off its Volunteer Month in April and expects to highlight a volunteer effort in North Berkshire.
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Congratulations to Kathy Keeser and everyone who helped to create this much needed program. Everyone, young and old, will now be able to match their skills with organizations in need of volunteers. Keep up the good work.